Which? has exposed a group of paid reviewers providing fake reviews to lots of UK businesses on Google, ranging from home improvement services to stockbrokers.
Which? set up a fake business and bought these fake reviews to see how some businesses are using shortcuts to get a good customer rating.
It’s important to note that companies selling Google reviews in bulk were all easily found in the tech giant’s own search results. Which? created a fake business listing called ‘Five Star Reviews’ and bought 20 Google reviews for around $150 from a site named Reviewr.
The firm providing the fake reviews claimed to offer ‘100% permanent reviews’ that won’t be deleted, and the investigators even got the option to choose a star rating of their liking for each review.
The Google accounts, which were used to plant the fake reviews, had reviewed similar businesses all around the country. Nearly 50 companies, including a stockbroker, a dentist, a London estate agent, and a bakery in Edinburgh, had at least three reviewers in common, suggesting that these businesses paid the same company to post “glowing appraisals”.
But upon investigating the “reviewers” behind them, the Which? team found, among others:
- 15 reviewers who had rated both an Edinburgh search engine optimisation business and a London psychic as five stars, which it called “an unlikely coincidence”
- A stockbroker in Canary Wharf who, having had several bad reviews in mid-2020, received 30 five-star ones “in quick succession” a few months later
- A reviewer who claimed to have lived in Surrey for years while praising a local car company, and a Glasgow electric gate firm 412 miles (663 km) away for work on his home
- The same reviewer also praised a dentist in Manchester, a paving firm in Bournemouth, and a Cambridgeshire locksmith, who allegedly saved his toddler from a locked car
Which? said it linked some 45 businesses scattered across the country to three suspicious “reviewers”. That suggested they had each paid the same review seller to post their reviews, it said.
This is yet another indication of the prevalence of fake reviews – earlier this year it was revealed that fake Amazon reviews are being sold in bulk and TrustPilot removed 2.2 million reviews in 2020.
Tony Wheble, CEO of review and customer insights platform Feefo is calling for robust action to force companies to put in place robust verification processes so real customers aren’t misled.
“The Which? investigation is yet another example of just how damaging the fake online reviews problem really is. It is hurting honest businesses and misleading consumers with serious real-life consequences,” Wheeble said.
“All firms can take steps to improve monitoring and invest in efforts to tackle fraud and misleading customer feedback. Consumers need guidance on what reviews are verified and can be trusted.
“Fundamentally, the only way to guarantee real and accurate reviews is to ensure they are posted by real customers. That means robust verification processes to confirm somebody is a buyer before they can leave a review.
“We welcome the ongoing review of our industry, we believe it will drive standards and accountability; but clear advice and guidelines to allow consumers to begin transacting confidently is what is required to begin addressing this issue and start driving real change.”
How Trustist can Help
Obviously, the potential risks of this to our clients also exists – so we’ve put some features in place to prevent this!
For a start, we’re a closed review platform. This means that the option to leave a review is not open to the general public – only their real customers.
This lowers the risk of fake reviews being left by rival companies, or even those just messing around on the internet!
You’ll also see that Trustist has verified review badges. This is an important feature to have as it gives consumers trust that the review they’re reading is genuine.
This verified badge is powered by our white-label platform, proving that every review that comes through it is real.